U.S. gymnast Simone Biles's decision to pull out of the team competition at the Olympics due to mental health issues shocked Americans who were expecting to see the world champion snag as many as six gold medals at the Tokyo Games.
But health advocates and sports experts say the move by the decorated athlete has helped put the issue of mental well being front and center, shining a light on the struggles faced by both high-level athletes and everyday Americans.
“We associate athletes with an exceptionally high degree of self awareness about what it means to be in top fitness in regard to their health, and I think that this is the perfect way to advance our understanding that our mental health is health,” Schroeder Stribling, CEO of Mental Health America, told The Hill.
The pressure on elite athletes like Biles is “unimaginable,” Stribling added, but “still relatable.”
USA Gymnastics announced on Tuesday that Biles would withdraw from the team final competition due to a “medical issue.” The announcement from the athletic body came after a performance by Biles on the vault, after which she pulled on a white sweat suit to cheer on her other teammates for the event.
Biles later told reporters that she had been “fighting all those demons.”
“I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured. So I thought it was best if these girls took over and did the rest of the job which they absolutely did… they should be really proud of themselves,” she said on Tuesday.
“It’s been really stressful, this Olympic Games,” she added, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the dynamic of the competition different,